BEIRUT: Intensified attempts to break the nine-month Cabinet stalemate have made some progress, a senior March 8 source said Thursday, as Hezbollah stepped up its warning against forming a fait accompli government, saying such a move would scuttle the presidential election in May.
Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam are determined to form a neutral Cabinet on Jan. 17 if no agreement is reached between the rival political factions on an all-embracing government, sources at Baabda Palace said.
“The ongoing efforts to promote the 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup have made some progress, but much work needs to be done before a new government can be formed,” the March 8 source told The Daily Star.
Without elaborating, the source cited mediation efforts being made by Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt aimed at promoting a new Cabinet proposal based on an 8-8-8 lineup to avert the possibility of a neutral government still held out by Sleiman as a last option to break the monthslong deadlock.
A source at Baabda Palace said that Sleiman and Salam planned to go ahead with the announcement of a neutral Cabinet if rival factions could not agree on a compromise.
“President Sleiman has stressed that it is difficult for any political party to reject the names of ministers proposed in the neutral Cabinet,” the source told The Daily Star.
He added that Sleiman had postponed the annual reception for Arab and foreign diplomats on the occasion of the New Year until Jan. 27 in the hope that a new Cabinet would be formed before the Geneva II peace conference on Syria scheduled in Switzerland on Jan. 22.
Sleiman hopes a new foreign minister will attend the Geneva talks.
MP Hadi Hobeish, a member of the parliamentary Future bloc, said Sleiman had pledged to approve the formation of a neutral Cabinet if the rival parties failed to agree on an all-embracing government within the next 10 days.
“The president has given a 10-day deadline for the formation of a government in which everyone participates. If it becomes clear to him that matters [an all-embracing Cabinet] will not succeed, he will return to the idea of forming a neutral Cabinet,” Hobeish told Al-Sharq radio station.
He said Sleiman had conveyed his stance during his meeting this week with political aides to Berri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.
Hobeish reiterated the Future bloc’s demand for a neutral Cabinet, saying this was the best option to rescue the country from tough political and security challenges as a result of the repercussions of the 33-month war in Syria.
However, Berri, Hezbollah and other March 8 parties have warned against forming a fait accompli government, their term for the neutral Cabinet envisaged by Sleiman.
Hezbollah described a fait accompli government as an “irresponsible adventure” that would obstruct the election of a new president to succeed Sleiman, whose six-year-term in office expires on May 25. Berri said the “adventure of a fait accompli government” would isolate everyone and leave its consequences on the presidential vote.
The warnings come as the March 14 coalition has not yet commented on the 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup proposal, while the Future Movement has demanded answers to five questions centering mainly on the government’s policy statement, a March 8 demand for veto power and the rotation of ministerial portfolios.
Future MP Nuhad Mashnouq said Wednesday his bloc could not adopt a final stance on the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal before it received clear answers to these questions. Mashnouq left for Paris Thursday for consultations with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Under the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal, the March 8 and March 14 parties would each get eight ministers, with “decisive ministers” allotted for each camp from the remaining eight ministerial portfolios allotted to centrists.
Referring to a flurry of intensified political activity aimed at achieving a breakthrough in the Cabinet deadlock based on the 8-8-8 lineup, Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc in Parliament said it was positively cooperating with efforts to form an all-embracing government.
The bloc, however, warned that a fait accompli Cabinet would be illegitimate and run contrary to the country’s Constitution.
“The bloc expresses its keenness on facilitating serious national efforts to form an all-embracing political government that enjoys the consensus of the parties,” it said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting chaired by MP Mohammad Raad at its headquarters in the Haret Hreit neighborhood south of Beirut, which was targeted by a suicide car bomb last week, killing five people and wounding over 70 others.
“The bloc stresses the need to remain vigilant of the dangers of slipping into an irresponsible adventure that would only complicate the crisis and thwart the presidential elections,” it said.
Referring to Sleiman’s declaration that he would approve a neutral Cabinet lineup if no agreement was reached on an all-embracing government, the bloc said: “A fait accompli government, whatever its label is, is a government that lacks constitutional and national legitimacy and contradicts the Constitution and the Taif Accord.”
Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem also warned that a fait accompli government might impede the presidential elections. He renewed the March 8 demand for forming an all-embracing government, saying this would help in holding the presidential election on time.
“Matters are inter-linked. When we succeed in forming an all-embracing government, we will succeed in holding the presidential elections on time. But if we fail in forming an all-embracing government, complications might pose an obstacle to holding the presidential elections,” Qassem said.
Speaking during a graduation ceremony in Haret Hreik, Qassem said the president and the premier-designate knew in advance that a neutral government would fail to gain a vote of confidence in Parliament.
Noting that Salam was named by the March 14 coalition, he said: “A neutral government should at least be headed by a neutral prime minister ... but the MPs chose a prime minister they already know is part of the March 14 coalition and voted for him to form a government that represents all parties.”